My Son is Doing the Opposite

I have prayed since my boys were babies that they’d grow up to marry Jewish and find their destined brides at the right time.

My son is dating a non-Jewish woman.

I’m going to Israel in a few weeks. What additional prayers or commandments can I do to have my son move toward having a relationship with God and have the right Jewish woman come into his life?

Thank you so much.


Dear Anonymous,

Being a mother or father isn’t easy. We could substitute many other identifying features for the ones in your letter based on stories we have heard over the years.

“My daughter is dating a man who is not strong in Christian belief.”
“My son’s wife believes abortion is no big deal…”
“My daughter is living with her boyfriend…”
“My son has told us that he is homosexual.”

The bottom line is that each of these children is not following the path that their parents prayed for since discovering that they were pregnant or earlier. These parents are crying copious tears, praying, and hoping to merit a change of their children’s hearts just as you are.

We believe in the efficacy of prayer, action, and tears. However, as the mother of an Israeli teenage boy said several years ago when thousands were praying for her son to be rescued after his abduction by a terrorist, “God is not a vending machine.” We do not put in our prayers, pull a lever, and get the product we desire. (After weeks when tens of thousands of Jews around the world prayed, her family and two others discovered that their sons had been murdered almost instantly upon being abducted.)

Wanting our children to follow our path is not an indulgence or, as progressives outrageously insist, an illegitimate assertion of parental authority. Indelibly inscribing your values upon your children’s souls is a holy mission. It’s part of the privilege of being a parent and having been entrusted with a new soul entering the world.

As we read the first 9 words of your letter, our hearts were troubled. It is never a good sign when a parent starts a sentence concerning her children with the singular personal pronoun, ‘I’. In Hebrew, there is no singular for the word ‘parent’. There are single mothers and single fathers, but no single parents, because successful parenting is far more likely with a mother and a father singing from the same music. If your children did not have a father, or if there was a rift between you and their father, your path was harder.

If you were a young mother expecting a child, we would encourage you to pray—and to take steps to ensure that your children know, respect, and love what was important to you. Telling children to marry Jewish carries much less weight when the Shabbat, keeping kosher, and other parts of Jewish life are ignored. We would urge you to surround yourself with like-minded individuals so that you and your children would have a supportive social structure.

But perhaps you did all those things and more. These things certainly make it more likely that children absorb their parents’ values, but it doesn’t guarantee an outcome. Our children are their own people; they are not robots whom we can program. Esau was not the child of Isaac and Rebecca’s dreams.

At this point, we suggest that you use your time in Israel to meet with wise mentors who have guided others through the same dilemma you face. Different families need to respond in different ways. It is possible that this relationship will end. It is also possible that this woman will be the guide on your son’s path to a stronger relationship with God and the Torah. We have seen that happen more than once. Sadly, it is possible that the future will not be the answer to your prayers that you seek.

You cannot force your son’s hand. You only can choose your own reaction to his actions. While you continue to cry out to God, with great sympathy we suggest that you not look for a ‘results guaranteed’ action that you can take, but instead use this difficult challenge as a growth opportunity.

Wishing you the best,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Musing is dedicated in memory of 83-year-old Emma Poliakov. A widow, Mrs. Poliakov was shot by Hamas terrorists in her house in Ofakim. Educated in engineering, she enjoyed singing and is survived by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And with continuing prayers that some hostages are still alive and among them, Tamir Nimrodi. Tamir was taken hostage along with two of his fellow soldiers when their base was attacked by Hamas terrorists. He turned 19 while in captivity (or after being murdered in captivity.)

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